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How to Pack for an Around-the-World Trip

Whether you are planning to be gone for a few months or a few years, packing for an around-the-world trip can seem like an impossible task. You have to assume you will experience the extremes of weather and climate, and that you won't always have access to a laundromat or, particularly, a dryer. You'll encounter cultural and religious sites that have a more conservative dress code. And, if you're like most long-term world travelers, you'll be staying in budget accommodations and couchsurfing, which necessitates a few additional items.

luggage trunks stacked next to a train

I have read many articles in travel magazines and even on some blogger's websites that focus on stylish travel attire, with photos depicting fitted jeans, silky tops, cute purses and jewelry, and fashionable shoes. While that may be fine to pack for a week-long city break, I wouldn't bring a single one of these items on an around-the-world trip. Why? Because in the end, comfort, function and durability matter far more than scoring style points for the traveler slogging through the rain with their 30 lb pack. In general I carry loose-fitting, stain-resistant, machine-washable, quick-dry fabrics in neutral colors that can easily be layered for cooler weather. Only things that really serve a purpose make the cut, as well as items that cannot be easily purchased in some places overseas.

laundry hanging in a hostel bedroom

After more than 20 years of extensive travel, including visiting all 50 states and more than 70 countries, this is now my go-to packing list for trips of two months or longer. It is originally based on my around-the-world trip from August 2010 to May 2011 which encompassed 278 days in 22 countries on four continents. Of course, the list gets modified if I expect the weather to be pretty consistent throughout the trip and/or if I plan to do a certain activity that requires specific gear e.g. camping. Still, the goal is always to carry as little as possible.

backpacks in a tuk tuk in Vietnam

A good test is to do a trial packing session at least one month before you plan to leave. Then carry your bag around during your regular day-to-day activities and be sure it fits properly (or rolls easily if you decide to go that route) and isn't too heavy. Ideally you should also wear the clothes you've packed, essentially living out of your bag for at least one, but preferably two weeks while you're still at home. You really are going to be wearing the same clothes over and over again so be sure you're happy with the fit and color options. I also recommend washing your clothes all together in one machine, then hanging them to dry on your portable clothes line. This is the most likely scenario during your travels and you want to be sure they dry quickly and don't wrinkle horribly. Finally, if your main pack weighs over 30 lbs then I suggest you start paring down. Do you really need that extra pair of [fill in the blank]?

Samsonite Aspire spinner suitcase

This list leaves minimal to no room for anything extra. That means you cannot buy souvenirs unless you are willing to pay to ship them home immediately or unless it is something that is consumable, doesn't take up space (like jewelry or postage stamps), or can be worn 24/7 (like a tattoo!). Besides, the best souvenirs are your experiences, your photos, and your lifelong memories.

stamps purchased from all over Central and Eastern Europe

In the list below, I have included the exact items that I own in most cases. These are all well-tested by yours truly; my toiletry kit is more than 20 years old! Also note that no company or manufacturer paid me to feature their products in this list. I selected and purchased every item myself, after trying almost every brand that makes a comparable product. Ultimately the list contains the items that fit me the best, were available at a low to moderate price, and that have held up over years of extensive use. For that reason, some of the exact styles are no longer available; you can find similar items by searching on each company's website or by entering key words on Amazon.


  • passport (valid for at least six months beyond your travel dates)

  • drivers license

  • international drivers license (if necessary)

  • debit card - I have a Charles Schwab no fee checking account that I only use for travel; all ATM fees are reimbursed

  • credit card (2) - I carry the Capital One Quicksilver World Mastercard and Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard; both have no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and accumulate cash back or travel-related credits

  • cash - $100 U.S. dollars in small bills

  • plane tickets, train passes, etc. - anything that requires you to print it as opposed to showing it on your mobile device

  • immunization record

  • maps & guidebooks - I recommend using digital versions or taking photos of the pages you want to reference later

  • pen / highlighter / small notepad

  • personalized business cards


  • REI Women's Grand Tour 4050 cubic inch backpack or 20"Samsonite Aspire Xlite Spinner suitcase

  • daypack - my REI Women's Grand Tour backpack came with a detachable daypack; alternately I carry an Eddie Bauer Connect Tech purse

  • Pacsafe Coversafe X100 waist wallet

  • Eastern Mountain Sports trifold snap wallet

  • small zippered coin purse - I have different ones I have purchased at artisan markets around the world

  • Safe Skies TSA-recognized luggage locks x2

  • Pacsafe Wrapsafe Model 2500 adjustable cable lock (for securing luggage on a train or bus)

  • Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Cover (sized to match your backpack)

  • eBags packing cubes 3pc set

  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Wallaby toiletry kit

  • Eddie Bauer LED headlamp

  • REI Multi Towel Lite XL

  • REI lightweight eye mask

  • Eagle Creek inflatable neck pillow

  • Cocoon silk travel sheet

  • water bottle - If I'm not worried about water quality then I carry either a Kleen Kanteen Classic 18oz stainless steel or a Camelbak Eddy .75L; otherwise I take a PurifiCup Portable Natural Water Filtration System.

  • Sun Cloud polarized sunglasses with case

  • Fat Cat 3-way eyewear retainer

  • aLoksak certified waterproof bags (set of 4 assorted sizes)

  • Flexo-Line travel clothesline

  • Light My Fire sporks x2

  • Progressive International collapsible storage bowl set (I carry 2 smaller sizes)

  • Reisenthel mini maxi shopper


  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with T-Mobile unlimited international plan

  • SanDisk Ultra 64GB microSDXC card (for extra photo storage in my cell phone)

  • Acer Swift 3 laptop

  • Nikon Trailblazer 10x25 Waterproof All Terrain Binoculars (only necessary if you're a bird watcher or are going on safari)

  • Belkin SurgePlus 3-outlet mini surge protector with dual USB ports

  • Shure E4c sound isolating earphones

Note: My phone also serves as my camera, watch, alarm clock, note-taking device, etc. I only carry a laptop if I plan to work while I'm traveling.


  • Marmot Minimalist jacket

  • Marmot PreCip pants

  • Seirus Hyperlite all weather gloves

  • Eddie Bauer waterproof safari hat

  • BUFF Original Multifunctional Headwear

  • ExOfficio BugsAway woven bandana

  • scarf - I carry a washable lightweight polyester blend that's long enough to use as a head covering in religious buildings

  • REI Windbrake Thermal fleece jacket

  • knee-length or longer skirt (1) - Royal Robbins

  • skort (2) - White Sierra West Loop Trail skort; Columbia Anytime Casual skort

  • dress (2) - mine are made by a variety of companies but they're all 95% polyester and 5% spandex

  • long-sleeve convertible shirts (2) - ExOfficio Dryflylite

  • pants (3) - Columbia Sportswear Mumbai Mover

  • t-shirts (3) - REI Tech tees

  • tank top (2) - Chico's Microfiber Contemporary Tank

  • First Looks seamless leggings (2) - exclusive to Macy's

  • REI lightweight long underwear top & bottom

  • pajamas - I carry a pair of athletic/running shorts and use one of my t-shirts or tanks

  • Magellan's microfiber robe - primarily for use in hostel showers

  • underwear (7 pairs) - Soma Vanishing Edge microfiber brief

  • bras (2) - Warners Cloud 9 Contour bra

  • SmartWool socks (6 pairs) - I carry an assortment of heights and weights

  • swimsuit - I like Lands' End

Note: Obviously this list is tailored for women but it should be pretty easy to modify for men.


  • Teva Toachi 2 sandals or JBU by Jambu Women's Wildflower Too Mary Jane Flat

  • Ahnu Montara waterproof hiking boot

  • Hilo Hattie Imperial Import unisex slippers (waterproof shower & pool shoes)

Note: The key here is to have one pair of fully enclosed, waterproof shoes for cool or wet weather, and one pair of comfortable, durable sandals that are supportive enough to walk on cobblestones and won't slip off your feet if you have to run to catch a train.

Toiletries/First Aid

  • prescription contacts + spares

  • multipurpose contacts solution

  • contact lens case

  • prescription glasses

  • lubricating & rewetting drops for eyes

  • personal prescription medications

  • Ciprofloxacin 500mg & Amoxicillin 500mg (multipurpose antibiotics used to treat infections)

  • Doxycycline Hyclate 100mg (anti-malarial)

  • birth control

  • acetaminophen

  • sleep aid (I use melatonin)

  • Excedrin Migraine

  • Benadryl (allergy relief)

  • Phenylephrine Hcl 10mg (decongestant)

  • saline nasal spray

  • cough drops

  • gas prevention and relief

  • Nature’s Way activated charcoal 280mg (digestive aid)

  • Adventure Medical Kits Ceralyte 70 (oral rehydration)

  • Gin Gins chewy ginger candy (anti-nausea)

  • Sea-Bands (anti-nausea)

  • hydrocortisone topical cream

  • Go Girl female urination device

  • anti-bacterial moist towelettes

  • hand sanitizer

  • facial tissue pocket pack

  • Vicks VapoInhaler

  • Olay Regenerist UV lotion (face cream)

  • Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus SPF lotion

  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch sunscreen

  • Ben’s 30% Deet Tick & Insect Repellent

  • Go Toob (3) filled with shampoo, shower gel, and lotion

  • toothbrush in plastic travel container

  • dental floss

  • toothpaste

  • lip balm

  • antiperspirant/deodorant

  • hair sculpting putty

  • mini first aid kit containing assorted bandaids, sterile gauze, alcohol wipes

  • disposable razors

  • tampons/panty liners

  • facial hair scissors, tweezers, nail clippers, nail file

  • cotton swabs

  • Dr. Scholl's Moleskin Plus Padding (blister relief)

  • sewing kit (needles, thread)

  • assorted safety pins

  • Flents Quiet Please foam ear plugs (5 pairs)

Note: You can purchase most basic hygiene and first aid items, as well as over-the-counter medications and many prescription drugs, in countries throughout the world. Do your research in advance and consult with your physician to get a sufficient quantity of any special medications and necessary vaccines a few months prior to your departure. Always carry a copy of your vision and medical prescriptions; I take a photo of mine and upload them to Google Drive for access anywhere. Don't forget that if you plan to carry your bags in the cabin on flights, the maximum size for liquids, gels and pastes is 3.4 oz or 100 ml and they must all fit in a quart-sized bag.

household goods market stall in Kiev, Ukraine

What's on your list? Are there any items that you can't live without? Let me know in the comments!

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